Why you need to stop shopping for your imaginary life

Why You Need to Stop Shopping for Your Imaginary Life

How to stop shopping for clothes you don’t need by focusing on your REAL life, rather that your imaginary one…

I’ve always had an imaginary life: I think most of us probably do.

(I mean, I hope to God most of us do, otherwise I’ve just made myself sound like even more of a freak than you already thought I was, haven’t I? Great start, Amber, great start…)

In my imaginary life, I’m basically a cross between a Disney princess and Audrey Hepburn. I live in a sunny, warm climate, have legs like Kendall Jenner, and there’s really nothing I can’t wear, if I really want to. Oh, and I have a different party to attend every night at the week: ones I actually want to go to, too! Fun imaginary life, huh?

Of course, in real life, things are just a little bit different, aren’t they? In real life I’m 5’4″, and spend my days working from home, which is a small village in the frozen north of the UK. I rarely go to parties – and when I do, the dress code is almost always causal. My real life, in other words, is worlds away from my imaginary one: so why is it that, even after a full year of “sensible” shopping, my wardrobe still reflects the imaginary life much more than the real one? You know, the one I actually NEED clothes for?

Seriously, if you were to walk into my closet right now, you’d find far more summer clothes than autumn/winter ones – even although Scottish summers generally amount to two weeks max: and that’s on a good year. I’d estimate that at least 80% of my shoes can only be worn for a few weeks each year, and I probably have enough evening wear to last the rest of my life: which is pretty silly considering that I can’t even remember the last time I had a reason to wear any of it.

Around this time last year, though, I finally realised that something had to give: I just couldn’t afford to keep shopping for my imaginary life, while totally ignoring the real one, and what’s more, it wasn’t actually making me happy, either. Oh, sure, I got a huge kick out of shopping (I still do, actually. I’m working on it…), and I had a closet full of beautiful clothes: but any time I had to do something that DIDN’T fit with my imaginary life (which was ALL the time, basically), I’d end up feeling uncomfortable and badly dressed – mostly because I WAS badly dressed. And this was 100% because I hadn’t figured out how to stop shopping for clothes I didn’t need, and start buying the ones I’d actually wear.

How to stop shopping for clothes you don’t need

Why you need to stop shopping for your imaginary life

When you spend all your time (and money) shopping for your imaginary life, you end up without much to wear in your real life. And when you’re the kind of fashion magpie who’s constantly being tempted by all of the shiny, glittery, impractical things you know you’ll never actually wear, it can be really hard to break that habit. I can’t claim that I’ve been totally successful in my mission to do exactly that, but I have made some big changes to my shopping habits this year ( mostly in a bid to take my own advice from this post, which is where I first brought up the idea of ‘fantasy’ shopping…), and here are some ways I’ve done it:

How to stop shopping for clothes


By being totally honest about my life and figure.

Oh yeah: one thing I forgot to mention in all those words up there is that I wasn’t just shopping for my imaginary life: I was shopping for an imaginary figure, too. Which is just a really, really bad idea, you know? I wrote about this fairly recently, so I won’t repeat myself, but I think the most important thing you can do if you’re an imaginary-life shopper is to be brutally honest with yourself about these things.

In my case, I found it helpful to really stop and think about the types of things I typically do in my life (My REAL life, I mean…), and then ask myself how I thought each new purchase would work for those activities. If they wouldn’t work for ANY of them, I’d seriously reconsider the purchase: I’m not saying logic always won out here, and that I don’t ever buy anything that isn’t 100% practical these days – I do, however, know there are more than a few ASOS dresses which would currently be hanging unworn in my closet right now if I hadn’t adopted this line of thought.


By starting to follow people more like me.

I get a lot of my style inspiration from the Internet, but I came to realise that following all of those Pinterest models, with their Bambi legs and their glamorous lifestyles wasn’t doing me much good: and nor were the pin-up girls, with their hourglass figures and immaculate makeup. Don’t get me wrong, I still follow those people, purely because I enjoy looking at their amazing photography (Er, that sounded a bit less creepy in my head, I promise…), but over the last few months, I’ve also started to follow some people I relate to more: mostly people a little closer to my age group, who tend to have similarly casual lifestyles, and whose outfits I can get actual inspiration from, as opposed to just looking at them and knowing that I could buy the same clothes, but I wouldn’t look even half as good in them. (And that’s assuming I even got the opportunity to wear them in the first place…)

By doing this, my Instagram and Pinterest feeds have become a little more balanced. I’ll still pin photos of girls in tulle skirts and sequinned tops (and hey, I sometimes even get to wear those things, too: I mean, I might not get out much, but I’m not exactly Cinderella, sweeping the fireplace in my ragged clothes, either…), but these days I also see a lot more realistic outfits popping up in my feed, and the funny thing is, I’ve actually started to covet those “basic” jeans-and-sweater looks almost as much as I used to covet the prom dresses and heels.* Who knew it was even possible?

(*I still DO covet the prom dresses and heels, by the way: I just don’t buy them quite as often as I used to…)


By thinking of all of the other things I could buy instead.

The problem with prom dresses and the other kinds of “fancy” clothes I used to spend all my money on is that they don’t generally come cheap. All too often, I’d find myself spending most of my spare cash for the month on an AMAZING dress… which would then hang in the closet for months, because I’d yet again gone and bought a summer dress it was never warm enough to wear, or evening wear for an event that didn’t come. I always told myself these purchases were totally worth it, because ONE DAY I’d get to wear them, and I’d be SO glad I had them! Sometimes I was right about that, too, but in the meantime, I was constantly broke, and I gradually started feeling a little bit resentful about all of the things I was missing out on because of it.

Again, I haven’t managed to totally reverse my habits here, and it’s still probably true to say that most of my money still goes on clothes and shoes right now. Not all of it, though: and these days it’s nice to be able to buy things for the house, or go out for lunch, say, rather than buying yet another dress.


By setting a budget.

Budgeting has never ben my strong point, and I’ll say upfront that mine isn’t a set-in-stone budget, which I never, ever break. I have, however, been trying my best to reduce my clothes spending, and I’ve found that by at least attempting to stick to some kind of budget, I’m much less likely to blow it all on something I’m not actually going to be able to wear. The opportunity cost of that kind of behaviour is just too high, and I find that if I only have a small amount to spend, I have to REALLY want the item I’m thinking of buying before I’ll allow myself to pull the trigger. Or to hit the ‘add to basket’ button, and pray that the Paypal Pay After Delivery option is available, as the case may be.

* * *

As I said, all of this is very much a work in progress, and I can’t claim to get it right every time. I mean, as I write this, there’s a new dress sitting just across the room, which… well, Christmas is coming soon, right? There’s BOUND to be some kind of excuse to wear it then, isn’t there?

What about you, though? Got any tips on how to stop shopping for clothes? And when you DO shop, is it for your REAL life, or some totally imaginary one? 

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books by Amber Eve
  • Stacy


    I shop for my imaginary life, but then (until now) I also just choose to wear it as well 🙂

    Being a software engineer who has a 60 mile round trip commute to the office 4 days a week doesn’t really lend itself to 50’s pin-up, but most of the time I just do it anyway and live with the impracticality of it all (trying to fit into the drivers seat without destroying the petticoat is a twice daily challenge that I dread). Then again it’s only been a year or so since I got the nerve to do the whole full circle Hepburn dresses and petticoats so maybe I just haven’t got tired of living with the impracticality of it yet and it will hit me in the future.

    As you say though, there are times when you absolutely have to dress for real life, and then I don’t have a whole lot to wear most of the time and just reuse the same skinny jeans and tops that I have been wearing forever, and feel awful in them because of it.

    November 21, 2016
  • I’m guilty of both. Like you, I stopped shopping for my imaginary life by thinking of other things I could buy instead. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, but I prefer shopping for kitchen tools and cutlery more than clothes!
    – Charmaine

    November 21, 2016
  • Maria


    I stopped shopping for an imaginary life and body image when I realised I couldn’t wear most heels because of my problematic feet; I just stopped buying all those skyscraper high, beautiful shoes, and started to gradually bring in more orthotics-friendly pairs. I’m also buying ‘sensible’ heels, that come with padded insoles and a better arch support than the thin stilettos I favoured.
    It was a bit of a bummer at first, but now I’m actually happy with the selection of comfy shoes I have, and while I’m always on the look out for shoes that can host orthotics without being huge and clunky and without having to size up, I can finally say that dressing has become easier these days.

    November 21, 2016
    • Maria, I’m with you on the shoes!

      November 21, 2016
  • Hahaha sooooo yeah, I kind of relate. I did a huge wardrobe clear out recently and while my wardrobe used to fit my REAL glamorous life of working in a creative environment, going to PR events and having dinner out a lot, my new freelance from home life wasn’t really sure what to do with any of it. So now I’ve had to let a lot of what was once practical stuff go in order to get some space back and not feel so bad about what I’m not wearing. But I kept all the heels anyway.
    And amazingly I’m okay with buying very little – I’m not as flush as I was but somehow I don’t need new pretties constantly – perhaps because my lifestyle is happier than it was – no more emotional shopping!

    November 21, 2016
  • I think I shop for a mixture of both – because if I really want to wear it I’ll usually find the occasion, even if it’s one I have to completely engineer OR I’m overdressed. I’ve kind of accepted I’m that person in life that totally overdresses for everything, and you know what I’m getting to the point where I’m ok with that. I love clothes and the thoughts of all of my clothes being totally practical and sensible makes me never want to buy them again to be quite honest. I think you have to find that balance that works for you… I guess I mostly search for the pretty daywear rather than eveningwear though, and maybe that helps?

    November 21, 2016
  • I relate to you in so many ways on this. I’ve previously done exactly the same, and have a serious weakness for party dresses. Now I’m getting more into layering and practicality but usually with a slight side of quirk/geek

    November 21, 2016
  • I’ve written about this in similar ways on my blog last year but I totally get you, I used to have that vintage imaginary life too and attempted to make it happen and even though I got my repro stuff mostly at a massive discount, I had to sell almost all of it last year in my jobless state. I had to re-evalute what was important to me style wise and how to make it doable for my lifestyle. Now I’m as strict as I can be and promise myself to only get a retro or vintage inspired item once a year (I’ve managed 2 years now) and on a cost per wear understanding. It’s the knowledge of the money I’ve spent on stuff I didn’t get to wear enough that spurs me on and I’ve found myself drawn to other retro styles that are still recognisably so but in a toned down way. If you’re interested in the posts I’ve included them below



    November 21, 2016
  • I’ve been awfully glad that you’re shopping for your real life– mine is similar to yours (working mostly from home, and living in a more-cold-than-not climate). I’d stopped following for a while because I loved your style, but I wanted Party dresses, too, and I was having such a hard time respecting that I DO NOT need them. I’m happy to be both enjoying you and learning from you again.

    November 21, 2016
  • Myra


    While I agree with you, it’s a pity that you’ve stopped buying all those gorgeous dessses, although I understand it must be sad, seeing them just hanging there not being worn, especially when you have given them names. Sigh.

    November 22, 2016
      • Myra


        Are the posts where you give names and characteristics not your own dresses? I love those posts

        November 22, 2016
  • Miss Kitty


    I don’t buy clothes for my imaginary life (but I have one, LOL! Don’t we all?), I just buy ALL THE THINGS. Even though they are all practical enough for everyday life, I just have far too much to ever get a decent amount of wear from anything. I tried to do a year of buying nothing new, like I have seen some people do, but I just ended up feeling deprived and sad. So now I give myself a budget, like you do… it’s reasonably elastic, but I try to keep more or less within its limits. So I know I can buy one big thing or a bunch of smaller things, but once it’s used up, that’s it for the month. It works for me, and I don’t feel totally deprived anymore, I’m still getting something new!

    November 22, 2016
  • Deanna


    Here’s my dilemma…I LOVE to wear cozy, warm, oversize turtleneck sweaters in the winter. But the last two years, I get way too hot in them and have major hot flashes! I get so excited when all the cute sweater/blanket scarf outfits start appearing, but I’ve really had to ask myself this year if I NEED another cozy oversize turtleneck sweater when in reality, I can’t wear them if I’m going to be indoors at all during the day. I’m hoping that in a few years the hot flashes will go away and I will be able to enjoy them again!

    November 22, 2016
  • I definitely don’t shop for an imaginary life, I’m not sure what that would even be to be honest! I do have far too many skirts and dresses for work, I’m only in the office 4 days a week and one of those is “mufty Friday” so I tend dress up a bit still on Friday’s. Keeping an outfit blog and posting a budget roundup every month definitely helps me to be realistic, I always stop and think, I have to declare this, do I really need it, can I afford it etc. That said, I saw some amazing gold glitter Topshop shoes on Beth School Gate Styles Insta last night and if money were no object and I did go to loads of parties I’d have been ordering them pronto! I do like a glittery shoe…..

    November 23, 2016
  • I love your post … i defenitely shop to much stuff i don’t really need. I will try to apply your tipps 🙂

    December 7, 2016
  • Connie


    I totally relate to this! Having moved to a much colder country than my own and being a mom of two that works with a uniform ???? I really don’t need now more than a really warm waterproof puffer coat, a couple of jeans, and some sweaters…however I feel like owning the summery or dressier pieces remind me of my older life and make me feel like a part of something I am missing…that’s just a fantasy and it is stopping me from exploring all the possibilities in my real life and finally giving me peace with what I actually have!! I think social media, on line shopping especially when there are sales are a big part of the problem and should be approached with caution!! Thank you for your post! Every tip was on point! ????

    May 31, 2021